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Total Control - Henge Beat

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Artist: Total Control

Album: Henge Beat

Label: Iron Lung

Review date: Sep. 22, 2011

I’m lucky. I get to monitor a constant flow of vinyl records thanks to Still Single. There’s generally a good balance of strong records made by strong minds and time-wasters by trendhoppers — a deep-end full of cool, clear water offset by that which is chemically altered to make the piss in the swimming pool turn pink.

Let’s pull back to the scope of music that sees release in North America in 2011. That swimming pool is now the size of the Gulf of Mexico, and looks like a Norse god ejaculated a sea of Pepto-Bismol into it. New bands and record labels alike — and let’s face it, no labels founded after 2006 are going to survive on selling music alone — proudly suffer under market-driven qualities, or social constructs that encourage the untalented to sally forth with a poor and under-developed showing. To survive, they must egg on the anxious to act without thinking, and engender a public to fear the hurt feelings that result when people become critical of the world around them, because aren’t there so many other problems in the world?

It’s weird and sad that this works. Many still remain unmotivated to seek out the opposite side their ken. Good times are all that are warranted, yet most of us don’t treat each one like it could be our last. We could sit here all day and night to discuss the intangibles of what makes one record more satisfying than another. We could also sit here and plot the demise of a musical rebirth, and connect the salient points from the former (craftsmanship, tension, reverence for the form, a challenge to expectation) with the ills of the latter (fear of experimentation, lack of gumption). But there is no “we” here, so I’m going to sell you on this Total Control record instead.

It’s not fair to cast all the gains made by young Australian punk/rock bands in light of native stardom (and worldwide recognition) of the band Eddy Current Suppression Ring, but that group’s guitarist Mikey Young has gone a long way to helping new groups from his country envision their own sounds. He’s got more than a few studio credits to his name, has played with the Ooga Boogas and UV Race, and joined forces with the latter’s D.X. Stewart to form Total Control. The band released a single in 2008, an electrified seizure of guitar, bass, drums, possibly a synth, and snotty vocals. The three 7”s that followed moved directly to the other pole, to an airtight bunker stocked with analog synths and frozen feelings, and staffed by thin people who wear all black and only move when they dance.

For Henge Beat, the debut album, Young and Stewart find equal pleasures by both lingering in the void and bolstering the project’s presence with full rock band instrumentation, working from a pedigree that stretches across the affected portion of the ‘70s and early ‘80s: Rev/Vega, Eno/Roxy/solo, Severed Heads, Swell Maps, exclamation point-era Ultravox!, prime Wire; the untouchables. It’s tough to find artists so comfortable in one genre that they can freely sidestep to adjoining (and historically prescient) sounds, with no appreciable loss in quality, but here we are. Fandom, passions, reasons for playing music that appear to be solely about the music; this is what Total Control has built, and in the process, the less-recent ideas they fixate upon are revitalized with a vigor not seen in some time. It’s a quality Young brings to Eddy Current Suppression Ring, but the concepts and influences at the heart of Total Control make for a better presentation, and a more enjoyable end result than what his other bands have been doing. And I really like his other bands.

Beyond being well-versed, Henge Beat is versatile. The album rides the filament that splits fandom/reference/recognition with true inspiration. The way that opener “See More Glass” builds out of a black leather/sunglasses/night stalker vibe (believably, at that) and falls right out of its last metered lurch into the opening drum blasts of “Retiree” underscores the big reason a lot of us seek out this music: it’s exciting, it’s visceral, it’s right in front of us. It’s an even bigger surprise to those who’ve been following the script, and remember when Iron Lung released “Retiree” on a single last year, wedged somewhere between the crawlspace and the floorboards. Where that song’s mechanical lament once help a tinny insistence, here it’s exploded with brash guitars and the same racing beat played on live drums, a maniacal approach that changes the meaning of the lyrics. When you can hear them on the earlier version, you get the tale; here, it’s inflected with an up-all-night delirium, its chorus of “Keep them at work” becoming less a commentary, more a directive.

Elsewhere, the icy side of Total Control’s past thaws a bit. Tracks with the crystalline structure of “The Hammer” play with rhythmic pacing of the lyrics, its title rising up and hidden in the organized test lab of computer pop; it happens again in “Meds,” a drawn-out monotone rant about characters who “take pills to remember to take pills to forget,” sci-fi’s head eating its own tail. Even short, space-filling instrumentals like “Sunday Baker” get the royal treatment, beaming in the winter sun like a bit of panel from the Harmonia satellite as it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere.

No other record in recent memory, in any genre, has so successfully glued such a divisive approach into a formal, consistent sound. During the Eno-fied twinkle lights of closer “Love Performance,” Young croons, over and over, “These are not the last days.” Total Control plays them like they are.

There’s not a lot of greatness out in the world right now. Please find it here, and wherever else you can.

By Doug Mosurock

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